Ancient Crafts at the Forefront of Fashion

Drifter and Grass Hill Jewelry

2018 / July

Lee Shan Wei /photos courtesy of Lin Min-hsuan /tr. by Robert Green

Each craft product possesses a unique life, and the passion of its creator is transmitted through the warmth of the maker’s hands.

Through the hands of youthful local entrepreneurs—leatherworking studio Drifter, and silversmiths Grass Hill Jewelry—lost arts and old memories are being re­kindled. The trend for bygone handicrafts is flourishing both in Taiwan and abroad.


The vitality of old things

A rusty key unlocks the marvels of the leather­worker’s studio, and a hundred-plus patterns are ­Drifter’s most valued treasure. Upon opening the glass door to the studio, the rich aroma of leather permeates the air. 

Hsu Chi, a graduate of Fu-Hsin Trade and Arts School, takes up his tools with practiced ease and begins cutting leather. “I worked in advertising for ten years,” he says. But six years ago he had an epiphany that inspired him to return to his real passion.

Growing up in the atmosphere of traditional craftsmanship, he felt that the consummate skills of the old masters were about to be lost, and he yearned to save the treasured craft.

Hsu Chi’s left thumb bears a deep scar. “People who like to work with leather generally have hands covered with scars large and small.”

It is as if the craft has marked his hands to remind them of the difficulty of the work.

Unlike the precision of machine-made products, handicrafts require considerable hand‡eye coordination and intense concentration. Quality can be lost through the slightest mistake. Because each craftsperson applies their strength differently and each piece of leather has its own unique qualities, each product is one of a kind.

The craze for retro suitcases

“Leather suitcases held a particular fascination for me,” Hsu says. “It was like a symbol of identity at the time.”

In order to recapture that long-lost charm, he tracked down old leather suitcases, and dismantled them to understand how they were constructed. He then reconstructed their century-old appearance.

The clunky sturdiness of leather suitcases conjures nostalgic thoughts. It has its own unique charm amid current fashions. Drifter’s products, similarly, all have an understated classical elegance. Even when compared to famous brands, the products hold their own.

Many foreign tourists instantly fall in love with ­Drifter’s retro leather bags. And by taking them along on their travels, they share the beauty of Taiwan’s revived craft industry the world over.

Sustainable heritage

The line of leather bags is called Heritage, and a second generation is already being produced. Their simplicity is also an expression of sincerity. “It’s just like a master handing on the craft to a new generation,” Hsu says.

He hopes that the treasured old designs of Taiwan-­made products and a love for Taiwan’s past will be passed from generation to generation.

Hsu began teaching his craft at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Tai­pei in 2013 and later set up his own workshop to create a place where people can indulge their love of leatherworking. “In this way, passion for the craft is reaching a new generation,” he says.

So far, more than 2000 trainees have come to appreci­ate the complexity of the traditional craft. Stitch by stitch, they write unforgettable stories with their hands. “I hope we can introduce even more people to the charm of leatherworking,” he says.

Amid the present craze for studying traditional handi­crafts, the dream of preserving them can be realized.

“When I became fascinated with the traditional craft, I started to explore the charm of times past,” he says. This line of inquiry opened endless possibilities to combine the traditional and the modern. And with the current interest in retro fashions, the ripples are spreading out to reach ever greater numbers of people.

Keeping with the times

At Grass Hill Jewelry’s second-floor workshop, the rhythmic sound of tapping greets visitors. Sitting at well-ordered silversmith’s benches, students are shaping metal using small hammers. They work with great concentration and a loving attention to detail.

Grass Hill sells products under the ­Kinjo brand. The name comes from the Taiwanese word for celebration. It reflects the passion that the founder, Karen Liu, has for handing on the silversmithing craft.

“Silversmithing is a precision craft that has been practiced for thousands of years,” Liu says. She decided to uncover all the wonders of this craft that had so long been hidden in dark corners of jewelry shops and bring it out into the sunlight, making it into a craft that everyone can try their hand at. She injects fashionable flourishes into the traditional craft to keep up with the times. 

Capturing the essence of the craft

Much praised for her talent, Liu earned a master’s degree from the Graduate Institute of Applied Arts at Tai­nan National University of the Arts. In 2004 she won a National Crafts Award for a piece titled Impression Bloom, which is now in the ­permanent collection of the National Taiwan Craft Research and Development Institute. Grass Hill has also been featured in the Tai­pei City Guide published by Louis Vuitton, boosting its international reputation. “Creation is more often than not the result of fortuitous accidents,” Liu says.

Liu and her husband, Shaw A, both excelled in their graduate studies in Tai­nan, where they got a solid foundation in their craft. The Grass Hill Jewelry workshop operates under the open workshop model, which allows everyone to observe the craft process and participate in creating new products. This has helped contribute to the resurgence in the popularity of silversmithing.

Grass Hill was started 12 years ago in Liu’s personal studio, which was located on a balcony in a building at the foot of Yang­ming­shan. Today the firm is flourishing and expanding. “I’ve had help from so many people along the way,” Liu says.

It was a big step for Liu to start teaching after spending so much time squirreled away by herself working on her craft. “My manager Xu Xiao­gui gave me the courage to start teaching,” she says.

Liu uses an eclectic range of motifs in her work that add beauty to her designs. “We use simple clean lines to add style,” she says. “This also makes it easy for the students to master skills and gain confidence.”

In 2013 Grass Hill Jewelry was invited by Eslite’s Spectrum Song­yan branch to set up an outlet there. Since then Liu and her husband have offered jewelry making experience workshops. Within three short hours participants can come away feeling proud of their creations. The events are enjoyed by young and old alike.

The immediate popularity of the couple’s workshops helped spur them on. They divided the work between themselves and created an aesthetic feast from a once-rigid artform. Their workshops have been so popular that they are now featured in department stores in Tai­pei and Tai­chung. “They have been in such demand that we sometimes struggle to keep up,” Liu says.

Because the items are all handcrafted by the workshop participants themselves, they are truly something to treasure, and so much more meaningful than buying someone else’s product. “Each piece contains the affection and goodwill of its creator,” Liu says.

Liu is most moved by the couples who attend her workshops. “The store has seen so many marriage proposals,” she says.

Moreover, there is no telling when these romantic scenes will play out. On the day we visited the workshop, a young couple had come in to try making their own rings. As they slipped the rings that they had personally created onto each other’s fingers, an irrepressible atmosphere of joy permeated the space.

An ancient craft reworked

There are many avenues to study silversmithing today, from schools and vocational programs to the traditional master‡­apprentice system. For anyone interested, the choices are plentiful.

Today silversmithing can be seen all around. It is a craft that can be enjoyed by everyone. And as times have changed, it is proving to be just as firmly at the forefront of fashion as it was in the past.

Jewelry making techniques have been inherited from masters of the past, but Grass Hill Jewelry has been endlessly exploring ways to add creativity to the designs. The workshop has already had more than 20,000 students. These metalworking enthusiasts tend to spur each other on, swapping ideas and lending vitality to the craft in a way that suggests that its future is one of endless possibility.

Shaw A, who received an award for cultural and creative industries from the Ministry of Culture, is planning to combine tradition and technology to establish online courses that will allow the craft to be explored interactively from anywhere. In the future silversmithing will shed some of its more traditional associations and be viewed as a citizen of the digital age.

The name “Grass Hill” comes from Cao­shan (“Grass Mountain”), the old name for Yang­ming­shan, where Karen Liu grew up. It is a place where the flowers of the silvergrass shine golden in the light of the setting sun. It is a metaphor for the dazzling future of the silversmith’s craft.                          

Relevant articles

Recent Articles

繁體 日本語



文‧李珊瑋 圖‧林旻萱































「創業其實是偶然的機遇。」劉冠伶和夫婿蕭輔青,都是南藝大研究所的高材生,受到學院派完整的培育。「草山金工」以開放工作室(Open Workshop) 的理念,讓大家認識金工,參與創作,掀起手作金工的風潮。















伝統工芸に新たな流れ 注目されるハンドメイド


文・李珊瑋 写真・林旻萱  翻訳・久保 恵子


台湾の若い起業家がそれぞれ設立した「旅人革製」(Drifter)と、「草山金工」(Grass Hill Jewelry)は、ハンドメイドの工芸品を通して、魂の奥底に潜む記憶を呼び覚まし、時空を越えて長い年月にわたって伝えられてきた技術と、文明の流れの中でめぐり会った。レトロな雰囲気の工芸品は一つの波となり、台湾だけでなく世界の舞台でも輝いている。







































X 使用【台灣光華雜誌】APP!